Chapter 15 – Home Again, Home Again, Jiggety Jig
It took them nearly two weeks to make their way back to the opening in the wall. Two weeks of steady marching and flying. Buzz and Millie flew ahead of them and then returned to report on their progress. They had no new adventures, no close calls, no owls or hawks or foxes or coyotes or snakes to combat. Just the steady movement of their feet and wings as they continued back over now familiar ground.
They noted the spot where Black Jack had fought Pepe, the stinky one. Their noses told them he had left his peculiar aroma behind, and they all wondered how long the smell would remain. Maybe forever to mark the spot where he had been so thoroughly defeated at the feet of Black Jack.
They saw again the spot where Fara had fought Red, the Harris hawk. The shattered branches of the sage bush were as they had left them, evidence of the close call Rollie had with the terrible claws of the hawk. They came to the spot where Fara had caught her foot in the chicken wire, but there no longer was any chicken wire there. It must have been swept away in the flood, to come to rest further downstream, there to entrap some other unsuspecting creature.
And finally they came to the slope that led them up to the highway along the outer wall of the city. They climbed the slope and waited for all traffic to pass, then hurried across the highway to the opening into the city. Rollie could feel the weight of their journey pass from him. He could feel the excitement of the return, back to the relative safety of the city, back to the land of tasty orange and grapefruit trees, the berries of arborvitae, the magic fountains. Back to his parents and his sister and the many friends he had there in the Arbor. Even Tucker would look good. Well, maybe not good, but at least familiar.
It was a band of travelers only a little bedraggled by their trip who scurried and flew across the road that fronted the house that was their destination. Home again. The Arbor.
The sun was just setting in the west, and the sky above the tall arborvitae was streaked with light, shallow strips of cloud now made golden in the dying light, pink and red near the horizon, purple as the light receded to the east, the light flickering through the arborvitae branches. They rounded the corner of the house and there were Dusty and Squeakie sitting on their cat perch near the screen.
“Look who we have here,” Dusty said. “Do my eyes deceive me or are there more of you returning than there were when you left? And who is this lovely creature?” he said, staring into the eyes of Fara.
Fara stared back at him and said, “My name is Fara. And you?” she asked, arching her brows and swishing her tail.
“I’m Dusty and this is my little friend Squeakie. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Fara. We don’t get to meet many cats, since our pets keep us indoors all the time. Yes, it’s truly a pleasure to meet you.” Dusty is flirting with me, Fara thought. I’ve never known anyone to flirt with me. In fact, I’ve never known any other cat in my life. She came nearer to the two cats above her and then sat down.
“Rollie, you have to tell us all about your trip. Did you find what you were looking for?”
“We had many adventures and many close calls, but now we’re back and not too bruised and battered. But I think I’d rather gather all the folks in the arbor to hear about it. Let us get ourselves settled back in and then we’ll have a gathering in an hour.”
Buzz and Millie flew off to find a comfortable perch in the large orange tree. Fred scuttled off to his home under the first arborvitae tree. Rollie and Kitty went to meet Rollie’s parents and his sister. And Fara remained sitting below Dusty and Squeakie. Just then the humans came out to see what all the noise was about. Dusty looked at them and meowed pitifully and then turned his head back to Fara. The humans came to see what he was looking at. And Fara meowed pitifully.
“Oh, look, Honey. What a cute little cat. But what is she doing out there? Cats are supposed to be in a house so no bad coyote or hawk or owl will get them. I wonder if she’s lost or if she’s one of the wild ones we hear about.”
Dusty meowled even more pitifully and Squeakie joined him. Fara answered with her own version of pitiful.
The two humans conferred and apparently decided they could always take in another cat. They came out in the gravel yard and slowly approached Fara. Fara wasn’t about to be frightened off and came toward them, her tail moving slowly and her mouth meowing softly, then purring contentedly when the lady human picked her up. “Isn’t she sweet, Honey? Do you think Dusty and Squeakie will accept her? I hope so.”
They carried her into the patio and put her down and the three cats met nose to nose to nose. Accept her? thought Dusty. We welcome her. The two cats led their new friend into the house and down the hall to the food and water dishes. At first, Fara didn’t know if she should eat anything, but Dusty assured her it was all right.
“I think I’m going to like living here, Dusty. I’ve been living out in the wild all my life and this looks a lot better than that.”
“Wait till you see all the toys we have,” Squeakie squeaked. “Come on, we’ll show you.” And off they went.
* * *
Lurking deep in the shadows under the arborvitae branches, Tucker watched the travelers as they arrived. He had hoped and hoped that he would never have to see Rollie ever again, but there he was. With him, however, was a lovely young rabbit lady he’d never seen before. He could hardly wait to show her his big muscles, his handsome face. It wouldn’t take him long to sweep her off her pretty little feet. He watched Fred as he scurried off to his house under the first arborvitae tree. Won’t he be surprised, thought Tucker.
He watched the cat who had arrived with the group of travelers as she was taken into the house. His eyes followed Rollie and the young lady as they went to the burrow of Rollie’s parents. He could sense that Rollie would be his competition for the hand of the young lady. Well, not to worry. Rollie the Runt was no competition for him.
Just then Fred burst from the shadows of the Arbor, scuttling along as fast as his little lizard feet would carry him. “Rollie!” he shouted. “Rollie! It’s gone! It’s gone! Someone has taken my reflecting glass!” He was going so fast he didn’t even stop to do any pushups. Rollie and Kitty met him near the orange tree.
“Whoa now, Fred! Just slow down and tell us what happened.”
“I, I, I, I went into my home and I couldn’t see myself. I wasn’t there. At first I didn’t know what was wrong. I thought maybe I’d just been gone too long and didn’t remember what my life here was like. But then I looked down and my floor was just dark dirt. Who would have done such a thing? Who?” Then he turned and looked into the arborvitae branches and saw Tucker there. “You!” he screamed. “You, you, you would do such a thing! You’ve always wanted my reflecting glass, haven’t you? What did you do with it? Where is it? Give it back to me, you sneaking thief you!” Fred was panting he was so mad and so out of breath from shouting.
Tucker slowly made his way out of the shadows to stand before Fred, folding his arms and raising his chin, looking down on the lizard. “I’m not a thief. I just thought I’d borrow your little reflecting glass while you were away. Actually, I was taking care of it for you, and in case you never did come back, it would be in good hands.”
“Well, I want it back. Right now!” Fred growled.
“I’ll get it back to you when I get around to it, little leather face. Right now I want to meet this young lady. My name is Tucker, Tucker Rabbit, and I’m pretty much the one in charge around here.”
Rollie made a face of total disgust, but he didn’t say anything to Tucker, much as he wanted to. Tucker stood there posing with his arms out to his side so Kitty could see his broad shoulders. And his smile was as false as a cheap toupee. Fred stood off to the side grumbling, his little eyes rolling around like marbles in a cup.
By this time, many of the folks of the Arbor had gathered, having heard that Rollie was going to tell them about their quest. There were quail families with tiny walnut babies and others with adolescents and others with teeners, and they were all chattering as only quail can chatter. Dan and Dora Dove were there with many of their dove friends. One of them, Daffy Dove, came weaving over along the ground, like he didn’t know what was up and what was down. He had just taken a header into the north window of the house, thinking it was a nice dark tunnel he could zoom through. He wasn’t the brightest light in the forest before he did it, but now he was really dim. A dozen grackles were squawking about, and Greta and Gabby flew in to join them. Gabby had a package of crackers in his beak, stolen just moments before from a generous golfer’s cart. He and Greta held it down on the ground between them and then went to work on the packaging. Soon they had it open and were immediately surrounded by other grackles chattering and pleading to share the prize. Harvey and Hilda Javalina and their little son Pinky showed up to hear how the quest had gone. And soon there were pigeons and hummingbirds and sparrows everywhere. Even Packy Rat was standing at the back of the crowd, and Packy was the most anti-social critter in the Arbor. Dusty and Squeakie and Fara were out on the back patio, sitting side by side by side on the cat perches.
It was a fine audience and Rollie felt proud to address them. He walked to the center of the crowd and raised his arm to quiet them down. The last to settle down were the quails and grackles, the two Arborite groups who always had the most to say even though they didn’t make much sense. Finally, though, silence descended on the Arbor.
“We went out to the Great Out There and had many adventures. And we met a few friends along the way. We met Fara, who saved my life twice. She is over there with Dusty and Squeakie.” Everyone turned and looked at her and then there was a rising sound of squawking and squeaking and cawing and grunting and squealing and chirping and whistling. Fara smiled and looked down in embarrassment. When the cheering died down, Rollie continued.
“And we met a giant warrior of a rabbit named Black Jack, who saved all our lives from a fox by the name of Pepe Vulpine. Black Jack couldn’t return with us but we will never forget him. We met a snake named Cecil, who would have had Fara for dinner, and I don’t mean he invited her to share a meal with him.” There was a smattering of laughter throughout the throng. “And we nearly all got washed away in a storm and a flood. That is where we met Kitty Rabbit, who was busy holding on to a boulder in the middle of the stream. Together, she and I made it back to shore and safety. We walked for many days to the south, each day expecting to find the place I was looking for, the better place.” Rollie paused for a long moment, looking down at the ground. Then he continued, “And, strangely enough, the place we were looking for . . . we found at the end of our journey. And that place is . . . here in the Arbor! This is the answer to the question, the treasure at the end of our quest. There is no better place for us to be than here in the Arbor.” The sounds from those in the audience were slow to start, but then the sounds of squawks, squeaks, caws, grunts, squeals, chirps, and whistles grew and grew. It was so loud even the humans came out to see what was going on. They couldn’t believe their eyes when they saw the congregation of animals in their backyard. And there in the middle was a handsome rabbit. They just stood there enchanted by this enchanting moment.
Rollie went on, ignoring the humans on the patio. “We should all be very thankful for the bounty trees and the magic fountains and the safety we all enjoy here in the Arbor. And now that night is falling, we should all retire and wake up to a new day tomorrow. Thank you.”
More applause from the audience and then they all began to make their way home. Dusty and Squeakie and Fara went in the house with their pets, and the darkness of early evening was filled with the sounds of quail fluttering up into their roosts among the arborvitae branches, the sounds of doves coo-cooing before they too fluttered up into the branches of the orange and grapefruit trees. Harvey and Hilda and Pinky waddled off to find some tasty prickly pear for dinner. All the grackles flew away to see if they could find some scraps left by the golfers on the nearby golf course. Packy Rat slunk back to his hole near the south wall. And Fred, still grumbling, told Tucker he would see him in the morning and he’d better have his reflecting glass with him when he saw him. Tucker harumphed and said he would be there, but not necessarily with the glass. And Rollie and Kitty went to his parents’ burrow, where Kitty would be able to sleep in the comfort of their spare room. Tomorrow would be a new day.